The Vella brothers had an unwritten rule: each one of them had a specific role within the company. Who was responsible for paperwork at customs, who operated cranes and fork lifters and who did the pick-ups and deliveries.
“Sometimes I joined my brothers with deliveries and driving, but my job was mainly in the garage, fixing and reconditioning equipment,” says Bastjan Vella, the second born in the family. His older brother Salvu remembers his father telling them about how he first started working with his father George, who was a port worker, clearing cargo from customs and delivering that cargo to his clients.
“When the Second World War broke, my father had to enrol himself and was stationed at Delimara. I still remember him telling us about his daily cycling trips, having to cycle all the way from Qormi to Delimara.
“When the war was over, the armed forces started disposing of a lot of heavy vehicles including transportation trucks. That was when a lot of horse-driven carts started making way for the many models that became available locally, namely American and Canadian vehicles.”
Bastjan sat for his secondary school exams and chose to pursue his studies at the technical school – a three-year City & Guilds course which led him to become a qualified mechanic. “My father knew a mechanic who used to service his truck and he made arrangements for me to start working for this mechanic during my summer holidays to get more practical experience. When I finished school, I kept working full-time with this mechanic for another four years.
FIRST RULE – DO IT YOURSELF
“Back then, whatever we could build ourselves, we built. When work started increasing and cargo was arriving on pallets, my father started renting a fork lifter to assist in the loading and unloading of merchandise. I remember my brother Żaren had spotted an old Coventry fork lifter with most parts missing. We bought it just the same and I managed to re-assemble it and started working with it. Eventually, I also built a cart for it which enabled us to transport it to where we needed to work.
“When my father, eager to take the business to the next level, realised that we needed a bigger truck, we came across an old Leyland Hypo 8-wheeler which we bought. I fixed it and made it operational again and we built a platform for it so that we could load it with containers.
A COMPANY ‘BY ACCIDENT’
“We soon started realising how fast the world of transport and logistics is and decided to sit down altogether to decide where we wanted to go. We all agreed that to grow, we needed to invest in proper vehicles. We decided to go for a new mechanical horse and a number of trailers, so I travelled with my brother Ġużi to the UK from where we bought a Scammell Trucker of 1968, a 40-foot trailer, a 25-foot trailer and a chassis cab.
That was one adventure we will never forget. We grouped all the vehicles together and left at around midnight to make it to Dover where we would meet our agent to sort all the paperwork only to arrive in France and be told that the paperwork was only valid to leave the UK and not to enter France and be able to proceed to all the way to Malta.
“We spent four days in Calais, trying to sort this problem out. We found an agent there who helped us get some paperwork sorted but we still needed to provide a guarantee till we got to Malta. After seeking legal advice, we were also told that paperwork would become easier if our activity was formalised. We had to provide a name for the new ‘company’, so we opted for the most straightforward one. This was when Emmanuel Vella & Sons was born!
“This was also the time when we started considering international transport on mainland Europe. As brothers, we decided to embark on this new business, and we formed Vella Brothers Ltd to be able to fund and acquire our first truck and trailer for overseas transport.”
“When Vella Brothers Ltd was formed, we invested in a piece of land which came with a half-built garage. The former owner had a quarry and we used to bring the stone from his quarry to complete this garage. We worked together during weekends till we finished it. We bought all the materials and built the roof ourselves too.
“By then we had decided to buy a new truck for our international operations so with my brother Ġużi, we travelled to Holland to pick up a Ford Transcontinental and a York trailer. But this too turned out to be more of an adventure because on our way to the port, we realised that the power clutch was not functioning.
“Having made it to the harbour, we got to Dover, called Ford and their people came to fix the faulty power clutch. From there, we drove up to London, where the York agents installed the fifth wheel and the mudguards, then we drove back down to London to load a lot of work for Malta. But we could not leave the UK because our vehicle was not registered to leave the country and we needed a guarantee, with which we eventually left.
“Driving down to Italy to pick up more work we got stuck between Bologna and Florence due to very bad weather. We had nothing with us except a change of clothes and sleeping bags. It was cold and snowing and we had to buy chains to be able to drive.
Eventually, we made it to Reggio with six inches of snow covering our truck and trailer. A month-long hassled adventure just to be able to start our international operations!”.
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